Thursday, 10 June 2010

On The English Language, Going Forward

DISCLAIMER: This post touches on the importance of good spelling and grammar. That's not to say that this post includes good spelling or grammar, just that it mentions it in passing.

When I joined Twitter, I thought it would be rude not to follow Stephen Fry; the man is a legend after all. Yesterday he pointed me (and the rest of his army of followers) to this interesting article in The Times. It would seem that an institution may be set up with a view to protecting the English language from the corruption of the dreaded Text Speak. Mr Fry is dead against this. Now, I'm a stickler for good grammar and correct spelling but I'm not sure what side I'm really on. I think all children should be taught, as far as possible, to write correctly. They should be taught why punctuation is important and what it all means. They should be told what the rules that govern how things should be written are, so they at least have some knowledge of them before hitting their teens and substituting every second letter for a number.

At the same time, I accept that languages evolve, as necessary, when new circumstances arise and that to even try and impede this process would be pointless. When faced with a nemesis as powerful as Text Speak, resistance is indeed futile; it's easy, it's quick and it could even save you money. People are going to use it, whether an academy recommends it or not. It might not be elegant or graceful, but it's evidence of the adaptability of language and, as such, should be tolerated.

One thing I cannot tolerate - however - one thing that irritates me so much I shake with rage - is Management Speak. It makes my blood boil.

The main reason for my boiling blood is that on Tuesday, I had a work-related disagreement over email with a colleague. I put a fair amount of effort into making sure that my point was communicated clearly, concisely and correctly. What I received, in return, was complete and utter drivel - whole paragraphs written in Prickish. There was plenty of talk about how I had been 'given ownership' of a task; a task that hadn't, unfortunately, been completed by the 'drop-dead date' of 'end of play Friday'. Oh, how the rage consumed me. Rage. I would have so much more respect for a manager who spoke to me in English - or French, Norwegian or Cantonese for that matter. As long as they used real, constructed language instead of this ridiculous and unnecessary jargon.

Despite my best efforts to put an end to it, Management Speak continues to make worrying advances into our society. Last weekend, I happened to tune into the Junior Apprentice. It's basically a group of 16-17 year olds competing in various business-related tasks, in the hope of winning £25,000 which will then be used to fund the development of their career. What upset me about this programme - and I don't think 'upset' is too strong a word to use - is that these 16 year olds weren't getting drunk, getting off with each other or having a laugh. The girls argued about sales pitches. The boys fought over margins. When I was their age, pitches were for playing football (or rather where other people played football while I was sneaking out of the school gates) and a margin was a line down the side of a page. Watching a group of teenagers boss each other around, wearing suits and talking perfect Management Speak reminded me of the scene in Animal Farm when the pigs left the farmhouse walking on two legs and wearing the farmer's clothes. It just wasn't right.

I'm sorry for this rant - I don't mean to sound like a miserable old bastard - I just wanted to bluesky my thoughts on the situation and ensure that we're well placed to handle it going forward.


  1. Speedy commenter here!

    Well, you don't really have to apologize for ranting. This is your blog.

    I would have so much more respect for a manager who spoke to me in English - or French, Norwegian or Cantonese for that matter. As long as they used real, constructed language instead of this ridiculous and unnecessary jargon. - I totally agree.

  2. @ Gnetch - I knew you'd understand - it sounds like you're having myriad issues with your boss, too. It's a good job that we're so patient. Like saints.

  3. I LIKE your angry words!Makes me think we'd be good friends hehe.And rant away my friend,this is your space =)

    Also, its nt k 2 r8 a grdt ppr ven ur an eng lit stdnt,no? :P Or any kind of student for that matter!

    Yea somebody in our class actually did that.pfft.

  4. excellent rant..

    I hear you, my boss doesn't know how to do anything BUT this dreadful management speak.. ever. I want to shake her! It's so impersonal, and everyone hates it. why do it???

    crap, now im ranting.. ; ]

  5. Speaking of Text Speak, we have a problem here for that because our younger generations seems to have created a disastrous language of their own, the jejemons. I hate them because they made it more difficult to other youngsters how to speak correctly.

    Good point of ranting.

  6. Damn. I think you're winning the rant (quasi/pseudo) competition!

    I cannot tell you how much I agree with you. If I could "THIS!" this to infinity, I would.

    I like beautifully constructed sentences. Despite how much I moan about having to edit documents at work and pick out misplaced commas and abused semi-colons; it thrills me a little bit to see an idea communicated clearly. I have to admit, if a boy I fancied ever text me in anything but full, proper sentences ...I'd go off him in an instant.

    I detest management speak and have absolutely no respect for anyone who uses it. This is one instance in which I unabashedly misuse being twenty three: "Pardon? I don't quite understand what you mean?" is a refrain for when I want to piss someone off. They know perfectly well that I understand, I just want them to tell me in the simplest, clearest way possible. I think it's a failure of your communication skills if you cannot reflect your idea in the most concise, easy-to-understand manner.

    I'm so incredibly lucky that my boss is a huge fan of plain-speak. It makes my life so much better. She's very "this is exactly what I mean" and there's no bloody time spent figuring out what's being said. But she is Mancunian, so that helps. I do end up being a lot less forthright when speaking with other members of staff though- just in case I'm too blunt!

    While, thankfully, I don't really have to deal with management speak on a daily basis; I do have to deal with bloody "official" language and jargon. It pisses me right off. Having to write some of those applications is just absolute bollocks. And yet, they're right twats about it. I sent in this application recently around sexual and reproductive health and rights (which is what we do, basically); and the cheeky gits wrote back and said, "Please adhere to UN terminology". Dickheads.

    I'll stop.

    Basically: you're right. I love Stephen and think he has a point, but only if it comes with a rather long clause about ensuring that people understand the proper rules of language.

    You're awesome, by the way. xx

  7. @ Sweta - pfft indeed. I'm glad you appreciate a rant - though don't encourage me too much or I might rant myself into an early grave.

    @ Jen - I shouldn't say this, because I don't know your boss, but I think it's probably to cover up a serious intelligence deficiency. Honestly, I think a lot of it is to do with demeaning the person you're talking to - but that's probably really cynical of me.

    @ Mish - I've shortened your name. I hope you don't mind. I looked up Jejemons and it's crazy! Can they actually understand each other?

    @ Risha - thank you millions for the big old comment and of course for the compliment :)

    I'm glad you agree with my bugbear and am jealous of your human-speak boss. If only I had one like that. Official language is a complete arse, too. I have to raise contracts at work and they don't actually make sense. I wouldn't sign them - I'd send them right back and ask for it in proper English.

  8. DO NOT be sorry for this rant. It is, in short, FUCKING FABULOUS.

    *dreams of getting out of corporate hell*

  9. @Tbr...It's okay to call me Mish. Impossible you may think but yes they are like aliens. They understand each other. Everytime my teenager sister text me like that i wanna run to home just to poke her. Grrrr! I am having a headache reading that. Hehehe!

  10. lol That disclaimer is hilarious. I am a firm believer in good grammar and spelling. I am a terrible editor though so I can't see my own mistakes and I do the their there mixup. I suppose I could learn to edit better... or... I could just become wealthy famous and successful and have someone do it for me.

  11. @ LiLu - I'm glad you liked it, and pleased to find someone who shares my dream of escaping the cruel corporate world.

    @ Mish - I think you should steal your sister's phone and only give it back once she promises not to text in Jejemon. It makes no sense!

    @ Boomka - I felt I should include it as I've got the same problem as you - I appreciate good grammar but don't have the patience to read through everything. So I figured a disclaimer would absolve me of any hypocrisy.